This the third post from our mid-winter trip to Mashatu. The focus of this post is on a young leopardess.
“The four cornerstones of character on which the structure of this nation was built are: Initiative, Imagination, Individuality and Independence.”
I am not sure how old she was but perhaps between two and three years of age. When we found her in the late afternoon she was lying in the shade in a croton forest. Her coat blended well with the grass and dead branches on the ground in the dappled light. In the late afternoon, we would often find a leopard had come down from its arboreal resting place, and was quietly gathering itself for its nightly excursion. This particular leopard would put her head down and rest and as soon as there was a distinctive sound she would come up and you could see her ears trying to locate the direction of the sound.
A closer look at this beautiful young female revealed some serious battle scars. Our guide Maifala told us that the tear on the right side of her face was sustained in a fight with her sister. The tear on her right side of her mouth rose from her lip half way up to her nose. The cut had gone right through her lip exposing her teeth. She also appeared to have had a tear on her nose, which had since healed. There are no doctors in nature you just have to sort yourself out and adapt.
After watching her for about half an hour she got up and started to wander along the river course, stopping on numerous occasions to pick up information from interesting scents.
Leopards are amazingly well camouflaged and they are dead quiet when walking. A leopard has black spots on its face, neck and legs but those spots transform into rosettes along the torso. The inside of a leopard’s legs and its belly are white with black spots.
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”
~ Adrienne Rich
Solitary and independent, she made her way through the trees and was highly tuned into everything around her. She stopped in her tracks trying to assess whether there was food or foe in front of her.
As the afternoon progressed the light softened which was an ideal time to shoot images of leopards. Leopards are predominantly solitary animals and have large hunting territories. Male territories are larger than females’ but they do overlap. Individuals usually only tolerate intrusion into ranges for mating. Both sexes mark their ranges with urine and leave claw marks with scent on trees to warn others to stay away.
Other than her torn lip she looked to be in fine condition and her coat looked clean and well cared for.
“The quieter you become the more you hear.”
She was not walking with intention and after stopping, sitting and listening, she just lay down in the soft light. I am always surprised how thin a leopard’s torso appears when it lies down.
I am not sure whether it was our presence that was irritating her – it probably was. As she snarled, you could see her right upper canine through the tear in her lip.
Having got up again she wandered closer to the river. I just loved the next scene with the late afternoon light filtering through the trees as she walked to the gap.
Eventually she got down to the edge of the Majale river and was watching a few Impala drinking from one of the remaining pools of water. Interesting, but too far away for good photos!
The next day we found her again. This time well away from the river in a thickly treed area. You do not often hear a leopard but when you do it is a grasping guttural coughing. It is distinctive and you will often hear it at last light or before the first glow has started to rise in the eastern morning sky. When you hear it you will be spellbound, it is unique and primal and you know you are in the presence of one of nature’s stealthiest hunters.
“Independence can neither be created nor destroyed just like energy! It can only be transferred from a fearless, resilient, intelligent & visionary “form” to another, regardless of what gender you are born with. It’s the energy that seeks to free your mind.”
~ Vishwanath S J
She stopped, at the base of what looked to be an Apple Leaf, in the only patch of sun in an otherwise shady area.
A few moments later she easily climbed the Apple Leaf and found a section of the bough that had a perfect resting curve. Leopards spend a lot of their time in trees. Their spotted pelage is perfect camouflage, helping them blend in with the leaves and branches of the tree. They are extremely powerful for their size and will usually hoist their prey high into a tree out of the way of lions and hyaenas. Leopards can hoist twice their body weight up a tree.
She seemed quite content to wait out the remaining daylight hours in her arboreal resting place, well away from attentions of wandering lions and hyenas. There did not seem to be any baboons in this area, so she was not disturbed.
“There is a way that nature speaks and the land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough or quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.”
Lying like only a leopard can up in a tree. The bough for a pillow, front legs either side of the bough for balance and hind legs tucked underneath her body and tail hanging down – looking very relaxed.
Every now and then she would look up but it was clear she did not have a care in the world. She must have been busy the previous night and now it was time to rest. Leopards are most active at night, but they are also eternal opportunists.
“Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.”
~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
A front paw also makes a soft pillow.
An iconic pose of a leopard – in harmony with her environment.
Leopards are classified as near threatened by the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. This listing is due to their declining population, which is caused by habitat loss and hunting.
“True freedom is the capacity for acting according to one’s true character, to be altogether one’s self, to be self-determined and not subject to outside coercion.”
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.